Skip to site content

Retirement-Aged Christians Are Today’s Drum Majors for Justice

Retirement-aged Christians are at the leading edge of addressing a host of social justice and mercy ministry initiatives.
To play off an idea from Peter’s Jerusalem sermon in Acts, young adults might have visions – visions of a better, a different world. But don’t think that today’s older Americans are just dreaming about the past. They are neck deep in making change happen.

Occupy Wall Street, protest marches and partisan politicians may feed the popular narrative that only younger Americans are the agents of change. Consider, however, an alternative narrative.

Featured in USA Today, Sister Joan Krimm, age 83, leads an effort in Cincinnati to address human trafficking.

“Sister Krimm is a force to be reckoned with. She is determined and hard-working,” said FBI Special Agent Pam Matson. “She is trusted because it is understood that her strong religious beliefs and moral principles are behind her actions.”

When Buddy Dumeyer retired as a captain from the Louisville Metro Police Department, he moved over to the coroner’s office. He said his calling was to make sure that indigent people weren’t buried alone. He enlisted high school students from Assumption, St. X and Trinity to attend the funerals, to be “pallbearers for the poor.”

Or think about Dan Ashby and Mike Freeman who go every week to the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, a predominantly maximum-security prison in Indiana.

They drive 150 miles round trip from Evansville to Carlisle. They seek to be “good representatives of the Bible” in their support and encouragement of offenders in the PLUS Program.

Cliff Vaughn and I met Dan and Mike at the prison security entrance when we were gathering footage for our documentary on prison and faith.

We spent the next day with them, recording their story of involvement in prison ministry.

Part of that involvement includes going to the Quilter’s Nest in Evansville to pick up donated material for a remarkable quilting program at the prison and delivering quilts to Goodwill Industries and the Chemo Buddies at an oncology clinic for those in need.

Now retired, Dan and Mike were high school buddies who took different career paths. Some five years ago, they began working together as religious volunteers with Kairos, a prison ministry.

Dan attends Crossroads Christian Church in Evansville, a mega-church affiliated with Churches of Christ. Mike is a member of New Horizon Fellowship Church of God.

Contrary to the many misconceptions about religious ministers in prisons, they call what they do a blessing. And what they do clearly energizes them.

In a way, Dan Ashby and Mike Freeman resemble John Fife and Gene Lefebvre. They represent different Christian traditions and prioritize different issues. Yet all four are fired-up retirees seeking the common good based on their desire to be faithful to Jesus’ agenda in Matthew 25.

John and Gene are retired Presbyterian ministers. They are in their 70s. They attend the same church in Tucson, Ariz.

They started No More Deaths, a faith-based camp in the Sonoran Desert, some 11 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, with the slogan “Humanitarian aid is never a crime.”

When we were working on “Gospel Without Borders,” we spent time with John and Gene. Gene walked us into the ground when we ventured onto the death trails that the undocumented use to enter the country.

And on a cold January 2011 night in Arivaca – without heat, without electricity – we collectively avoided getting sprayed by a skunk. The skunk had entered the medical tent where we were sleeping. It was crawling its way into Miguel De La Torre’s backpack in search of homemade sweets.

John and Gene are two crusty social justice saints who talk immigration reform and walk the immigration trails.

Last summer, we were at the Carter Center for an interview with Jimmy Carter for our documentary on prisons and faith. He walked in exactly on time. As soon as we attached the mic, the interview began. He didn’t waste time. He didn’t miss a beat. He moved fluidly from his presidential administration to what Jesus taught in Matthew 25 to a social critique of the prison system to his hope for church involvement with offenders.

Carter turns 89 on Oct. 1. Still a force for advancing the common good.

These stories illustrate older Americans at the leading edge of social justice and mercy ministries.

Chances are high that you have remarkable senior adults in your own church and community that are drum majors for justice and “doers of the word.”

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.